💳 How PayPal fraud made Palantir

A new book, Amazon Unbound, has a chapter that details Jeff Bezos’s envy of SpaceX. Good thing he can go blow off some steam on the 100-foot yacht he just bought. Oh wait, that’s the support boat. The real one is 500 feet and costs $500m.

THE BIG IDEA

Roommates, PayPal fraud, and the unconventional story behind Palantir

When your clients include the CIA, NSA, FBI, and a bunch of other folks on that level, it’s safe to say you’ve built something noteworthy.

Yesterday, lucrative software firm Palantir reported $341m in Q1 revenue (+49% YoY).

But without 2 dudes rooming together in law school, Palantir would likely never have existed.

Unsurprisingly, its story begins at Stanford

That’s where Peter Thiel and Alex Karp were roommates, and received their JDs in 1992. Following that:

  • Thiel worked on PayPal
  • Karp went to Germany to get a PhD in philosophy

At PayPal, Thiel dealt with rampant fraud that at one point made up 1%+ of PayPal’s total volume.

Thiel & Co. refocused the company around building tools to help humans track internet fraudsters, and PayPal was sold in 2002.

That’s when Karp — broke and jobless — returned from abroad

Thiel called him up and said, “Hey, Alex, there’s this methodology we had at PayPal. Think it would make a great company for stopping terrorism.”

So in 2004, Thiel assembled Palantir’s founding team, with Karp as CEO.

A ~$2m investment helped develop a prototype — based on tech developed at PayPal — and get a foot in the government’s door.

The team had zero experience with classified info, but a demo was intriguing enough that Palantir continued working with intelligence officials.

And the rest is history. (More or less.)

So what the heck does Palantir do now?

Years later, Palantir has 149 customers across the public and private sectors. It boasts:

  • 15 deals worth $5m+ and 6 worth $10m+
  • Q1 government revenue of $208m (+83% YoY)
  • Q1 commercial revenue of $133m (+72% YoY)

Perhaps the least surprising thing from yesterday’s announcement: Palantir is accepting payments in bitcoin.

SNIPPETS
  • Complicated plan: As part of its plan to go public, media firm Buzzfeed will acquire Complex Network.
  • Pandemic impact: Apple’s iPhone 12 production in India has been cut by 50%+ as the country deals with a worsening COVID situation.
OLD TECH
Boomers are moving online

Boomers are moving online. How are companies coping?

Baby boomers are not afraid to open their wallets.

According to The Economist, households led by this generation — born between 1946 and 1964 (aged 57-75) — spend $64k a year.

This figure is nearly 2x the spend by those born after 1997.

The pandemic ushered many online

In 2020, one American boomer segment — those over-65s — upped their online shopping by 53% YoY.

Here’s what they dropped money on:

  • Adult diapers and meal replacements were up 50%+
  • Alcohol spend was up 4x

SilverSingles — a seniors dating site — notes healthy growth, while consumer goods giants like Nestle and Danone rolled out drinks to promote healthy aging (e.g., by improving mobility, immunity).

Despite the spending power…

… only 3% of ads in the US target over-50s, per The Economist. Corporations clearly have room to allocate more resources there.

Further, companies have room to improve their digital experiences for the older set with:

  • More delivery options
  • Easily navigable sites
  • Payment options that can assuage seniors’ privacy concerns

When it comes to serving this spendy generation, saying “OK, boomer” to their needs makes a lot of business sense.

BIG TECH
Facebook wants you to read

Facebook wants you to read before you share

Listen up, aunts and uncles of the world: Your indiscriminate posting of random stuff on Facebook is about to hit a roadblock.

The social network is testing a pop-up that will remind people they might want to actually read something before they tell all their friends and families.

Sometimes not sharing is caring

If someone tries to share an article they haven’t opened, the pop-up will warn them they might be “missing key facts.” They can then choose to open the article or share it anyhow. A Facebook spokesperson told the Verge the pilot will start with 6% of Android users.

Facebook announced the rollout on Monday via Twitter, where a similar function has been in effect since last June. In September 2020, Twitter said people opened articles 40% more often after seeing its pop-up.

How much don’t people read?

  • A 2016 study from Columbia University and the French National Institute found 59% of Twitter links were shared without a click, meaning the user likely just read the headline — which rarely tells a full story.
  • The study was inspired by The Science Post, a satire site that posted the headline “Study: 70% of Facebook users only read the headline of science stories before commenting.” The article contained only placeholder text, but still got ~46k shares, according to the Washington Post.
  • In 2019, Annie Reneau wrote a story about domestic terrorism for Upworthy, but a glitch sent the Facebook post to a dead link. It racked up thousands of shares and 2k+ comments from people who had not — who could not — read the article. Oof.

So, either your uncle posts better links… or the pop-ups create enough friction to lead to less sharing. Win, win.

(The writer was a contractor at Facebook in 2019.)

PODCAST

How much does the UFC make?

Twenty years ago, Dana White bought the mixed martial arts promotion company for $2m. Today it’s worth billions. In episode 179 of My First Million, we dive into the UFC’s numbers and how Dana was able to pull it off.

We also talk:

  • How a startup is looking to save you money on your taxes
  • How a “no-loss” lottery works and the company behind it
  • A simple trick Shaan does to improve his entire day
🎧 Listen here →
TRENDS

$3.1B in funding in 2020 alone…

Did you read yesterday’s Trends report?

We covered:

Get 7 days of Trends for just $1, and read the full issue now.

TECH BEEF OF THE DAY
Google went nuclear

The home of “double can’t skip ads” (Source: Thomas Trutschel / Getty Images)

Google went nuclear in its battle with Roku, the video streaming hardware firm. Here’s a blow by blow, per Ars Technica:

  • Roku and Google were in negotiations to keep the subscription YouTube TV app within the Roku hardware
  • Roku said Google’s terms were monopolistic, and YouTube TV was pulled from the streaming dongle
  • In response, Google put the YouTube TV app within its free YouTube app

Due to the popularity of the main YouTube app, Roku would be committing corporate suicide by removing it. As of right now, it looks like Google may have checkmated its opponent (but courts may still intervene).

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